8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Cowboys -3, Over/Under: 47
NFC powers collide in the Lone Star State, as the Minnesota Vikings look to get back on track against the Dallas Cowboys, from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Midway through the season, and it’s hard to argue that the Vikings (6-3, 2nd in NFC North) aren’t in a solid position in the NFC. Currently, they trail the Green Bay Packers by just one game within the division, while holding a 2.5-Game Lead over the Detroit Lions. Furthermore, if the Playoffs were to begin today, they would be the conference’s second Wild Card, which is sure to have the faithful in Minnesota content after missing the postseason altogether last year. However, upon further inspection, one can’t help but feel that this team is missing something in order to truly contend for a Lombardi Trophy. Statistically speaking, this team ranks among the best in the league; Mike Zimmer’s charges rank in the Top-10 in both Total Offense (399.3) and Defense (320.9), Points Allowed (17.6), Pass Defense (225.1), both Rush Offense (153.0) and Defense (95.8), Turnovers (10) and Takeaways (14), as well as Red Zone Offense (65.6%) and Defense (50.0%), among other categories. Furthermore, they’re outscoring their opponents by an average margin of 8.4 Points, and outgaining them by a margin of 78.4 Yards. Third-year Tailback, Dalvin Cook (117 CAR, 894 YDS, 5.1 Y/C, 9 TD), appears to have shaken off the injury woes that plagued him throughout his first two seasons in the league, leading the NFL in both Rushing Attempts (177) and Yards (894), while factoring heavily into the Passing Game with Thirty-Three Receptions for another 338 Yards. And speaking of the Passing Game, few teams can boast that they possess the volume of weapons that these guys have, including Pro-Bowl Receivers, Adam Thielen (27 REC, 391 YDS, 14.5 Y/R, 6 TD) and Stefon Diggs (38 REC, 710 YDS, 18.7 Y/R, 4 TD). And then there’s the Defense, which is loaded with talent, fielding seven different players that have been selected to a Pro Bowl, with the likes of Eric Kendricks (73 TKL, 3 TFL, 2 QBH, 0.5 SK, 1 FF, 10 PD), Anthony Barr (41 TKL, 4 TFL, 4 QBH, 1.5 SK, 1 FR, 1 INT, 4 PD), Harrison Smith (53 TKL, 1 TFL, 1.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 7 PD), Xavier Rhodes (38 TKL, 2 TFL, 3 PD), Danielle Hunter (42 TKL, 10 TFL, 14 QBH, 8.5 SK, 1 FF), and Everson Griffen (27 TKL, 8 TFL, 16 QBH, 5.5 SK, 1 INT, 2 PD), forming the foundation of what has long been one of the league’s most stout units. Not to mention the aforementioned Zimmer, one of the most respected defensive minds the game who since arriving in Minnesota back in 2014 has gone 53-35-1 (.601), including a pair of NFC North Titles and a trip to the NFC Championship Game back in 2017, and has roughly a quarter of the NFL running some variation of his scheme. So what is it that this team is missing, you ask? Well, we’ve hit on just about every major position group but one, and it’s the most important one: Quarterback. When the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins (68.8%, 2,217 YDS, 7.82 NY/A, 16 TD, 3 INT, 61.4 QBR) to an unprecedented, fully-guaranteed contract back in the Summer of 2018, they were making a statement that given all of the positive qualities that we’ve listed, they were simply a Quarterback away from winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl Championship. Now, just over halfway through his landmark three-year deal, it’s a fascinating question as to whether or not this guy is in fact the right man to lead them to glory. It’s not that Cousins has underperformed, for he’s been pretty damn solid for stretches, but there have been lingering concerns over his fit with this group, particularly given how the team struggled last season with a heavily one-dimensional scheme that was tailored to his strengths, and how the Quarterback himself hasn’t appeared to be a seamless fit in this new, more run-oriented attack. After ranking Sixth Overall in Passing Attempts (37.9) in 2018, the Vikings sit at a diminished 28.1 thus far (32nd Overall), the fewest Attempts on average in the league. Offensive Coordinator, Kevin Stefanski, clearly subscribes to the theory that is less is more in the Passing Game, which is correct in this case; Cousins’ Net Yards per Attempt has skyrocketed from 6.25 to 7.82, as his team’s success on the ground has led to more success attacking downfield. With that said, his teammates had to motivate him into doing so, as both Thiele and Diggs publicly criticized their Quarterback’s reticence against pushing the football downfield after an embarrassing 6-16 at the Chicago Bears. Since then, he’s turned into the Mad Bomber, averaging 296.2 Yards on 9.26 Net Yards per Attempt, with Thirteen Touchdowns in comparison to One Interception, while the Vikings in that time have gone 4-1 averaging 30.0 Points on 436.4 Total Yards. That’s the kind of play that the Vikings need out of their Quarterback, though we’ll have to wait and see if they’ll receive it over the course of the second half of the term.
Meanwhile, just about everything that we touched upon with the Vikings applies to the Cowboys (5-3, 1st in NFC East), who apart from being one of the league’s most talented teams on both sides of the football, have rarely performed to their potential. So with half of the season in the books, it remains a fair question: who the hell are these Cowboys? Are the team that came out of the gates like gangbusters, winning their first three contests by an average margin of 17.7 Points per Game? Or are they the club that immediately followed that stretch with three consecutive losses, punctuated by a head-scratching, 22-24 defeat against the previously winless New York Jets? If there is one constant during ten-year reign as Head Coach in Dallas, it’s that his charges are annually among the most unpredictable teams in the NFL, experiencing more spectacular ups and debilitating downs than most who would fashion themselves as a Super Bowl contender. But that’s just it, folks, for when this team is on their day, there are few (if any) that are better, but their propensity to make things harder on themselves has long been, and continues to be, the talk of many debate shows. Like their opponent tonight, they rank among the league’s Top-10 in a slew of categories, including Points For (28.4) and Against (17.8), Total Offense (446.8) and Defense (318.2), Passing Offense (297.5) and Defense (220.9), Rushing Offense (149.3), Average Plays (6.35), Yards (41.0), and Points (2.60) per Drive, Takeaway Percentage (14.3%), Third Down Offense (50.0%) and Defense (21.7%), and lastly, Red Zone Defense (41.4%). Jerry Jones has opened up his checkbook and paid a lot of money for premium talent, with Pro-Bowlers galore along the roster, featuring the likes of Edge-Rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence (17 TKL, 5 TFL, 10 QBH, 4.5 SK, 2 FF, 2 FR), Linebacker, Jaylon Smith (68 TKL, 3 TFL, 3 QBH, 2.5 SK, 2 FF, 2 PD), Offensive Linemen, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, Tailback, Ezekiel Elliott (158 CAR, 741 YDS, 4.7 Y/C, 6 TD), Receiver, Amari Cooper (42 REC, 701 YDS, 16.7 Y/R, 6 TD), and Quarterback, Dak Prescott (69.6%, 2,980 YDS, 8.13 NY.A, 15 TD, 8 INT, 81.1). Of that group, the last two are the next in line to get paid handsomely to remain in Arlington for foreseeable future, with Prescott doing everything in his power to land that mammoth contract that he and his representatives were angling for in the Offseason. The former Fourth Round Pick has certainly outplayed his Rookie Contract and has been a bonafide bargain throughout the first four years of his career, and in 2019 has thus far posted career-highs in a wealth of categories, including Completion Percentage (69.6%), Touchdown Percentage (5.5%), Yards per Attempt (8.7), Yards per Completion (12.5), Yards per Game (297.5), Net Yards per Attempt (8.13), Sack Percentage (3.5%), and QBR (81.1), with that last figure leading the league through nine weeks. New Offensive Coordinator, Kellen Moore, has really unlocked his potential, which has in turn led to a much more well-rounded Offense, rather than exclusively relying upon Elliott and the Ground Game. When we last saw them, the Cowboys made their second trip to MetLife Stadium with designs on this venture ending better than their previous one, though the outcome was certainly in question for much of Monday Night’s 37-18 victory over the Giants. This is one of those affairs in which the final score doesn’t really do the game justice, for Dallas led 16-15 heading into the Fourth Quarter, and 23-18 midway through the final stanza before a 45-Yard Touchdown from Prescott to Cooper put the lead out of reach, before a miraculous 63-Yard Fumble Return for a score courtesy of Cornerback, Jourdan Lewis (17 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FR, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 PD), with twenty-two seconds remaining. For much of this tilt, the visitors simply couldn’t get out of their own way, with their first four drives ending with an Interception, a Field Goal, a missed Field Goal, and a Lost Fumble, before Prescott hit Blake Jarwin (12 REC, 162 YDS, 13.5 Y/R, 3 TD) with a 42-Yard Touchdown with just over one minute left in the First Half. If not for New York’s habit of turning the ball over (an Interception and a pair of Lost Fumbles) and settling Field Goals (there were four of them), the outcome of this contest could have been a very different one. Indeed, the numbers looked good, with the visiting side amassing 429 Total Yards on Twenty-Four First Downs, Prescot throwing for 257 Yards and Three Touchdowns, Cooper hauling in Eighty Yards and a score on Four Receptions, while Elliott grinded out 139 Yards on Twenty-One Carries, but you can’t help but feel left waiting for these guys to put together a complete game. A pair of Turnovers, a missed Field Goal, and Ten Penalties for 104 Yards made this one a lot more difficult than it had to be, but then then again, this has been the normal for Dallas for quite some time.